Back on the Road Again

Once again I am out enjoying the excitement of the open road with new and unexpected things around every corner. It has been a long time coming. Being out in the fresh air all day and walking with family and friends, sharing jokes and memories. These simple things have been my cure for the lock down blues.

I stood watching a moorhen with five tiny chicks pottering around a small inlet into a pond and wanted to weep with the joy of the moment. Nearby a Canada goose sat still and calm on a nest watched over by their alert mate. These and other experiences have re-wired my brain and woken up my senses, both dulled by lock down repeats.

We didn’t go far for our first few nights away once we were allowed. Burrs Country Park Caravan and Motorhome Club site in Greater Manchester is well placed to allow us to meet up with some people we’ve missed. A 30 minute walk into Bury and we were soon sitting outside Katsouris wonderful cafe eating tasty Greek food and catching up with an old friend from Salford as if the last 12 months hadn’t even happened. Later, our son and daughter-in-law drove up to Burrs Country Park and we walked through the countryside with them and enjoyed coffee and cake from the cafe as if everything was normal. Inside my heart was singing.

With a day to ourselves we cycled along the number six National Cycle Route to Salford and Clifton Country Park. The sun kept on shining and this surprisingly green and rural route turned up a reed warbler nibbling seed heads on the banks of the old canal, roe deer hiding in tall reeds, their erect pointed ears giving them away and a friendly cafe in Radcliffe that served us a delicious white chocolate and cranberry iced bun under a blue sky.

Moving on to Crowden we packed sandwiches and a flask and walked some of the Pennine Way. The weather was perfect and it was this and two other walkers who were the talk of the trail. We had wondered if anyone was walking this Long Distance Footpath at the moment and along came a young couple with a tiny baby who were spending their joint parenting leave backpacking the whole route. We admired their energy and wished them well.

After a week being back in the big wide world we had our first pint of draft beer in a sunny pub garden in Castleton. My drinking partner proclaimed that his pint of Chieftain IPA from Ireland was the best he’d ever had but that might be more to do with the months without a proper beer!

Roll on some more mini adventures!

Lock Down Loneliness

As we all emerge from Lock Down Three, we will be keen to focus on looking forward to the new world and the ‘new normal’ as it is called. I am the sort of person that looks to the future, rather than the past and I certainly don’t want to think back to the dark days between January and March this year. I have come through all the lock downs and tiers physically healthy but mentally mangled. Lock downs never got any easier and I found Lock Down Three particularly tough and lonely.

Readers might live in a friendly street where your neighbours smiled across the road as they clapped on a Thursday night in Lock Down One and continue to check in regularly via a Street WhatsApp Group. I imagine this is the sort of street that, in Before Coronavirus days, held a communal street party. I don’t know where these streets are but in all the places I have lived [just seven streets in five places so a limited sample] I have never experienced anywhere like this and mostly hear about them in the media and soap operas. Do they really exist in the real world?

Thursday nights at 20.00 during Lock Down One were quiet here on our Morecambe road. No one shamed us into going into our front garden to clap for the NHS. We were therefore taken by surprise when a Zoom call with two friends in a wealthy part of Greater Manchester had to be cut short so that they could join in the clapping. They risked being socially shunned by the neighbourhood if they didn’t show their faces!

Wherever we have lived we have always got to know our neighbours but we had only lived in our Morecambe home for four months when we were confined to its four walls. We had met some people at tai chi classes and were on chatting terms with the residents either side of our house but there was still some way to go to feeling a part of the community. Although the sunny weather during Lock Down One meant we did meet a couple more neighbours from across the street while we were out in the front garden I certainly wouldn’t say that it was a chance to settle into a community. Most people around us are retired and the majority of our neighbours are single households so we are surrounded by a generation who are terrified of catching Covid-19 and who kept themselves to themselves. Any chances to get to know them were fleeting and superficial. The only positive in the first lock down was spending time with our immediate next door neighbour. We saw him pretty much everyday and with all the time in the world we enjoyed long chats over the fence.

Lock Down Three has been a totally different scenario. Even our chatty neighbour was curled up on his sofa in the dark winter months of January and February and we have hardly seen anyone. Thank goodness in January our tai chi teacher eventually got to grips with Zoom and for the last three months our weeks have revolved around his entertaining Wednesday classes.

When we moved to Morecambe we thought we would meet people in our new town by joining some clubs or groups, attending some events and seeking out like-minded folk. The steps we had made towards this before Lock Down One kicked in were small. It isn’t that I want to be part of a community WhatsApp group but Covid-19 has certainly made settling into a new town more difficult.

We know we are lucky to have each other, lock downs have been very lonely for single people. But life has been so different for everyone. For the most part, and for the first time in our lives, geography has determined our social life. Most, but not all of our good friends are in the north west of England but as lock downs and tiers came and went we were constantly cancelling plans. In Lock Down Three we couldn’t even see two long-standing and close friends who live locally. In normal times we would meet as a foursome for a walk but the rules only allowed two people, not two households, to even take a stroll in the open air.

Lock Downs have been lonely experiences for me and they must have been miserable for others. As I mentioned at the beginning of this post I always look forward, rather than back. This can be positive and also a cause of anxiety. Even as we take the small steps to a restriction-free life, in a corner of my mind is a dread that another lock down will come out of the blue! And so, I am seizing the day and can’t wait to be back on the road again on Monday 12 April.

One Step at a Time out of Lock Down Three

As Lock Down Three restrictions eased on Monday 29 March 2021, our priorities were to meet our son and daughter-in-law and visit the Lake District. I was impatient to see them but made myself wait until Tuesday 30th and a better weather forecast for the four of us to meet up and hike up some of the 214 Wainwrights. The day’s three Wainwrights were ones we had climbed before but both our son and daughter-in-law have taken up Wainwright Bagging and the walk included two new fells for them to tick off. I didn’t care where we were, I was just so happy to be with them both again. I was grateful that they were prepared to spend their first day back in the hills waiting for me as I huffed and puffed up the slopes and gingerly straggled behind on the steep rocky descents. We walked up Heron Pike, Great Rigg and Fairfield, chasing the low cloud that magically rose before us as we ascended, making it a glorious and unforgettable walk. There was a lot to catch up on and we talked about all manner of nonsense, about hydrogen cars, shared friends, Line of Duty [of course], plans for the rest of the year and recommended books and I couldn’t stop smiling the whole day!

Being able to meet our son and daughter-in-law and take a walk with them, catching up, laughing at familiar jokes, sharing memories and making new ones, sitting by a tarn having a picnic lunch together and trying to name the surrounding mountains are all things we used to take for granted. It has been a long three months since we have been able to do these simple things. For three dark months it has been just the two of us walking locally and so I was keen to make the most of the next step forward from Lock Down Three and start to feel as if I was living again.

Not content with one day of walking in company, the next we met two long-standing friends. My aching legs, after the steep descent from Fairfield, were happy to have an easier walk around the gorgeous Silverdale coast and through Eaves Wood. I was pleased to find that my ability to chatter hadn’t been lost in lock down and I barely drew breath for the whole four hours. The day wasn’t without incident and will, no doubt, become part of our collective memory, ‘Do you remember when we all nearly drowned?’ It was a high spring tide and we sat in the sunshine having our picnic lunch, looking across the sea from a low rock in The Cove near Silverdale. We were chatting as we looked over the expanse of Morecambe Bay to Grange over Sands and remarked on the speed of the incoming tide. Looking around we suddenly realised that our route back to the shore was cut off by water! While those with longer legs could traverse the cliff to return to dry land, I took off my shoes and socks, rolled up my trousers and laughing had my first paddle of the year through knee-high water! It was such a warm and sunny day my feet dried naturally as we finished our lunch sprawled out on the pebbly shore.

The sun kept shining and the Lake District fells and more Wainwright Fells were calling. The next day we drove back up the M6 and set off walking by ourselves over Hartsop Dodd and Gray Crag. After two sociable days I felt energised and on much better form that I had been for three months. It felt good to be walking with just my partner in life and hiking. It stayed dry but we had to shelter from the bitingly cold wind when we stopped for lunch and we were wearing many more layers than we had the day before. Back at the Blue Bus we enjoyed a mug of tea and a slice of cake before driving home.

Our final walk of the week was along Morecambe’s stunning promenade to Heysham with two inland Lancashire friends who had been missing the sea. The sun shone once again and the nattering never stopped. A particular delight on our walk was Glebe Garden, next to St Peter’s Church. The garden was packed with colour and buzzing with insects and butterflies in the sunshine.

We have more walking with friends days planned over the coming week during our countdown to returning to camping. I have taken a few big steps out of the mind-numbing Lock Down Three rut I was in and it is starting to feel a bit like normal!

Ride: Cycle The World

Some of my time in Lock Down One was spent writing about two impressive European cycle rides for a new DK Eyewitness book, Ride: Cycle The World. Writing about two very different cycle routes took me back to trips to stunning inland Spain and historic Germany. Austria and Hungary. I hope my contribution inspires others to pack a saddle bag and pedal into the distance.

Ride: Cycle The World came out in April 2021 and features 100 amazing cycle routes from across the globe, 32 of them in Europe. This is the book that could inspire you to grab your bike and cycle some ups and down from the south of Wales to the north or around the dramatic Applecross Peninsular. Maybe Paris to the magical tidal island of Mont St-Michel appeals to you or just packing a couple of t-shirts, shorts and sun cream for some summer cycling between the island of Croatia that sit in the turquoise-blue Adriatic. Further afield the epic rides featured include Bolivia’s infamous Death Road and island hopping in Japan.

Each contributor has written about what they know. The 1,228 km Danube Cycle Route from the source in Germany to Hungary’s Budapest is a classic ride that takes cyclists through five memorable countries and three capital cities, connecting a diversity of peoples and landscapes.  It can be completed in one long ride or [like us] in sections. A largely traffic-free cycle path, this is a perfect bikepacking trip for beginners; you are always pedalling downstream and the river’s banks burst with significant and fascinating places making the really tough part fitting everything in! Popular with Germans and worldwide there will always be another cyclist to chat to over a beer or a coffee and share riding adventures. Should you be unlucky and have a breakdown, there is always a passing experienced cyclist with a better tool kit than you!

My second route was a shorter but equally wonderful cycle ride through inland Spain. At 129 km you could cycle the Ojos Negros Via Verde downhill and in a day if you are in a rush but I prefer the less hurried uphill version. Climbing steadily inland from lush Valencian orange groves through changing scenery and charming small towns, the Ojos Negros take the cyclist to Teruel, a World Heritage Site. The via verde or greenway follows a disused railway line and is pleasurable leisurely cycling through attractive off-the-beaten-track Spain. Teruel is the place to immerse yourself in Aragon’s Mudéjar Art. This elegant fusion of Islamic art and European-Christian styles flourished from the 12th to 17th centuries and is characterized by intricate geometric patterns of terracotta bricks and glazed tiles. Teruel has three outstanding Mudéjar towers and the Cathedral’s decorative wooden ceiling is the Sistine chapel of Mudéjar art.

A fantastic book to buy for yourself if you’re looking for inspiration for your first bikepacking adventure, this is also the perfect gift for any intrepid cyclist in your life. As well as descriptions of each ride, maps and practical information the book includes tips for the best places to eat and not-to-be-missed highlights and practical guides to help you choose a bike and the kit you need.